Watch CBS News

Brain Tumor Survivor Embraces Chicago's Deep Freeze To Help Train For Mount Everest

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The weather on Mount Everest has been similar to Chicago during our record cold snap. That inspired one man's trip to Oak Street Beach, as he prepares to climb the world's highest summit.

As most scrambled away from Chicago's deep freeze, Alex Pancoe embraced it.

"This is officially cold," he said.

The Northwestern University graduate has been waking up bright and early this week to catch the coldest of cold temperatures.

"The wind is great, because the wind is a big factor on Everest," he said.

Chicago's polar vortex mimicked conditions on Everest, perfect for Pancoe to test new gear he'll use in just a few months.

"Just being able to manage my pack without having to take off gloves," he said. "Everest is not the place to learn this area on your body's too cold, or your water is freezing, or the gloves you got, you don't have enough dexterity to do what you need to do with tying knots and managing ropes."

Pancoe said something as little as adjusting a zipper can cost him valuable energy in a place where he'll have one-third the amount of oxygen he has in Chicago.

For about two years, Pancoe has been training to scale Everest, in an effort to raise $1 million for pediatric brain tumor research Lurie Children's Hospital.

"They don't have a choice. They can't quit," Pancoe said of children battling brain tumors.

Scaling Everest is part of Pancoe's quest to complete the Explorers Grand Slam, an adventurers' challenge consisting of climbing the Seven Summits – or the highest mountain on each continent — and cross-country skiing across both the North and South Poles. The Explorers Grand Slam is one of the most extreme mental and physical challenges in the world. Only about 60 people have completed the feat to date.

Pancoe already has traversed both poles, and needs only to scale Everest and Denali in Alaska to complete the Seven Summits.

He is dedicating his climb of Everest to Serena Lewis, a teenager who shares a special bond. They both survived brain tumors, thanks to doctors at Lurie Children's Hospital.

"I had a brain tumor when I was at Northwestern, actually, between my freshman and sophomore years," he said.

Last year, while training on Snowmass Mountain in Colorado, Pancoe also survived a near-fatal fall, when a piece of rock broke off in his hand, and he hit a sharp edge. He badly injured his leg, and suffered frostbite before crawling to get cell service, and being airlifted to safety.

So making it through the extreme conditions in Chicago this week is no sweat off his back.

"Everyone's climbing their metaphorical Everest, and if you push yourself, you can achieve things you didn't think was necessarily possible," he said.

After summiting Everest, Pancoe needs only to summit Denali to reach his goal. Financially, he's a little less than half way to his $1 million goal.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.